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Stoops, Hayes and Long: A bond spanning four decades

Dallas head coach Bob Stoops and St. Louis head coach Jonathan Hayes.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The same photo hangs on the walls of their homes and offices. Four coaches on the Oklahoma Sooners staff (Chuck Long, Bob Stoops, Jonathan Hayes and Mike Stoops), celebrating a 34-14 Rose Bowl victory over Washington in 2003. All four once coached and played together at Iowa under the late Hayden Fry. 

“We love to joke that after all those years at Iowa, we had to go to Oklahoma to win a Rose Bowl,” Dallas Renegades head coach Bob Stoops said. 

Stoops loves that photo, and it means a great deal to him. Which is why it hangs proudly alongside among some of his favorite life moments. 

On Sunday in Arlington, three of the men from that photo will be lined up on opposing sidelines. 

Stoops’ Renegades host the St. Louis BattleHawks on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Globe Life Park. Hayes is the BattleHawks’ head coach, and Long is his offensive coordinator. Hayes might not be coaching at all if it weren’t for a fateful call from Stoops when he was assembling his first staff at Oklahoma. 

“That was a long, long time ago when I hired Jonathan to be our tight ends and special teams coach,” Stoops said with a grin. “And he wasn’t involved in coaching, he was breaking horses at the time after retiring from the Chiefs.”

After years of playing tight end, and most of those years at the highest level in the NFL, Stoops was convinced Hayes could be a tight ends coach at the college level. Hayes wasn’t so sure.

“He said, ‘Let me come take a look around Norman, and then we’ll see,’” Stoops said. “I laughed and said, ‘There’s no looking around, you’re either taking the job or you’re not.”

Hayes took the job, and he’s been a coach ever since. After that Rose Bowl season, he took a job with the Cincinnati Bengals, and was on that staff until 2018. Now, he’s got his first head coaching gig. Surely a lot has changed about Hayes in all the years since he was on the same staff with Stoops, but for the life of him, Stoops couldn’t tell you how. Lifelong friendships can be like that sometimes. 

“Who knows? We’re all different these days,” Stoops said. “He’s a great coach, a great communicator and I’m really excited to see his team and watch him through this whole process.”

Long was the Hawkeyes’ up-and-coming quarterback as senior safety Stoops was on his way out, and while Stoops often laments missing out on getting to suit up with the former Heisman runner-up in his prime, he relishes the time they’ve had together since then, and knows the Renegades will have their hands full. 

“He’s a great coach. He was my offensive coordinator for a good number of years before becoming a head coach,” Stoops said. “That will be a well disciplined team, and he’s great at balancing the run and pass, so we’ll have to be disciplined on that side.”

1982 Iowa Hawkeyes football team. (Courtesy Iowa Athletics)

All three owe a debt of gratitude toward Fry, who not only coached them to great success on the field, but built the foundation for quite a legacy. The three coaches sharing one field is special enough, but they’re a part of the larger Fry coaching tree, which includes Bill Snyder, Kirk Ferentz, Barry Alvarez and Dan McCarney. 

“Coach Fry was a great mentor to all of us, a leader to all of us, believed in all of us. He gave us a great opportunity to be successful at Iowa,” Stoops said. “A lot of great friendships have come from that time together in Iowa City.”

Friendships that still have room for a little competitive fire.

“Those guys don’t golf, so we’ll have to get after it here on the field,” Stoops said with a chuckle. “We’ll have some good laughs ahead and behind the game, though.”